Seattle City Council is set to consider an ambitious lobbying plan for the 2023 state legislative session, including support for e-bike incentives, income-based traffic tickets, decriminalization of jaywalking, freeway removal in marginalized communities and much more.
Every year, the City of Seattle creates a document outlining the outcomes they will be lobbying to support, and the City Council was briefed on a draft of the 2023 State Legislative Agenda (PDF) Monday (see video at bottom) and voted to approve it Tuesday (7 in favor, Pedersen and Nelson abstained).
Something being included in this agenda does not mean it will pass or even that it has legislative sponsors and momentum. It’s really more of a wish list and a set of policies for the city’s hired lobbyists to pursue during the session. The city does not have any power to set state legislative agendas. As such, they can be very aspirational. However, state Democrats have widened their margins in both the House and the Senate, so in theory this legislature should be much more friendly to Seattle than in years past. Not so long ago, Seattle wanting something to happen was a liability for a bill. Here’s hoping that dynamic has changed.
Below is a look at a few of the transportation items that caught our eye, followed by our comments:
We support transportation policies and funding proposals that include a significant share of funding for cities to help pay for local maintenance and preservation, the expansion of transit including light rail, active transportation, and other local needs.
Yes! Maintenance is rarely a popular expenditure among politicians, but Seattle has a lot of infrastructure that is aging. A lot of it is also unsafe as designed. There are long sections of Aurora without sidewalks, which unthinkably irresponsible. Freeway access ramps and bridges are also full of dangerous road designs. Seattle needs state funding and permissions in order to make them safe. So having more state funding go to maintaining or improving the safety of infrastructure rather than, oh, I don’t know, building new multi-billion-dollar freeway expansion projects would be a very smart move.
We support expanding local transportation revenue options for local governments, including modifying the City’s parking tax authority to allow for more equitable application that includes commercial parking offered for free.
It’s difficult for me to love this idea more. Seattle already leans on the commercial parking tax, which is a good thing. But simply making the parking free should not get around this tax. Free parking is not actually free.
We support an increase in Sound Transit’s authorized debt capacity.
This is an effort to help speed up delivery of light rail expansion.
We also support raising bid limits and the public works contracting threshold to be better aligned with today’s construction costs, and indexing those limits to the construction cost index.
There are state rules requiring public projects over a certain cost to go out for bid even if city staff are perfectly capable of building it themselves. Allowing the city to do more work in-house could help them respond more quickly with infrastructure design fixes or install more extensive lower-cost bike lanes. At times, protected bike lane projects are limited in scope due to this bidding requirement, which adds a lot of time and overhead to the work.
We support transportation policies and funding that help to address the climate crisis and meet both the City’s and the State’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reductions, including electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, incentives for EVs and e-bikes, and greater congestion pricing authority as a means of reducing emissions. We support making e-bikes, e-cargo, or e-family bikes more affordable and accessible as a low-carbon and lower cost alternative to driving for low and middle-income families.
Yes, yes, yes. Governments keep trying to make EVs happen through incentives, but the use of e-bikes is growing rapidly. An effort to help more people afford the cost premium of an e-bike over a standard pedal-only bike would do a lot while also costing a fraction as much as an EV incentive.
We are committed to environmental justice in the transportation sector, including the removal of freeways in marginalized communities such as South Park.
We support efforts to improve transportation safety, particularly for vulnerable users such as bicyclists and pedestrians, including increased local authority to designate pedestrian zones and set speed limits below 20 miles per hour.
Oooh, this one is very interesting. For streets intended to be shared with people walking, a speed limit below 20 makes sense. These are places where car access is allowed for the purpose of reaching a property or driveway, but car speeds and travel times are the lowest priority and cut-through traffic is either illegal or discouraged. There are many places in the Metric world using 20 km/h speed limits for pedestrian zones, which is a little more than 12 mph. So a 15 mph limit seems reasonable. A 15 mph limit might also finally get Google Maps/Waze to stop routing people down these streets.
We recognize that a complete sidewalk network coupled with a connected safe citywide network of protected bike lanes connected to reliable, frequent transit is the foundation of a sustainable, accessible and equitable city and therefore support policies that would fund safe and accessible crossings at rights-of-way, and ensure these essential transportation facilities are maintained and accessible.
Yes, of course. Please.
We support expanded City authority for automated traffic camera enforcement.
I would need to see some details before resoundingly supporting this one. It’s important to balance safety enforcement and privacy when dealing with surveillance cameras. The details are very important.
We support more robust data collection and transparency on traffic collisions, and an update to official statutes to accurately describe traffic collisions as crashes rather than accidents.
We support providing local authority to end the use of weaponized enforcement for traffic violations and allowing non- uniformed officers, including those working for a local city department that is not a police department, to perform garage and event management activities.
Yes! I love this. There must be a way to do traffic safety law enforcement that does not involve an officer with a gun. I’m imagining a situation where an enforcement agent witnesses someone failing to stop for people in a crosswalk and then mails the ticket to the offender’s home. Or something like that. It provides a penalty and an enforcement contact to correct a dangerous behavior, but it does so without a traffic stop with the potential for a dangerous escalation. People should be concerned that if they fail to yield at a crosswalk they may get a ticket.
We support providing local authority to end the use of weaponized enforcement for traffic violations and allowing non- uniformed officers, including those working for a local city department that is not a police department, to perform garage and event management activities. We support a policy that would allow for a single flagger to direct traffic without a traffic or police officer present as part of the traffic control plan approved by the city.
Yes. In fact, traffic control professionals are more than capable of doing all kids of traffic duties we assign to police officers. They are already doing it around all sorts of complicated construction zones, so there’s no reason they couldn’t do it after a major event or during an open streets festival.
We support decriminalizing pedestrian activities such as loitering and jaywalking, which disproportionately impact BIPOC communities.
Yes! Let’s do it, Washington.
We support setting traffic citation amounts based on income to avoid perpetuating cycles of poverty while ensuring enforcement remains an effective deterrent regardless of an individual’s income and providing additional mitigation for marginalized communities.
Yes! This one works both ways. To a rich person, the cost of a traffic ticket means very little and so is not much of a deterrent. But unpaid tickets can lead some poorer people into lots of legal trouble due to their inability to pay.
We support laws that reduce punitive enforcement of non-safety related traffic violations and improve road safety.
I’d love to see the details behind this idea, but I agree with it in general. There needs to be a way to make sure people fix things like a cracked windshield or expired tabs, but that probably shouldn’t be an armed police officer writing tickets that can become warrants if left unpaid for long enough.
In addition to the draft document, the Council voted unanimously to add an amendment from Councilmember Dan Strauss to add support for freeway lids.
So, what do you all think of this agenda? Let us know in the comments below.
Watch the Council briefing: